I read some sage advice some years ago. If you want to write an artice, freelance Douglas MacPherson argued, it needs a HOOK.
You know what I mean: an occasion, an anniversary, a news story. You need to argue why it is relevant NOW, why this particular publication would ignore this particular press release at this moment in time AT THEIR PERIL.
The timing isn’t ideal: the release of my novel Fir for Luck is still months away (22nd September if all goes well), but I stumbled across that elusive thing: a hook. Something that lends itself to press exploitation NOW, rather than later.
An opinion piece in the local paper just so happened to mention the fact that the 200th anniversary of Patrick Sellar’s trial for arson and manslaughter was coming up in late April. Sellar, the notorious arch-villain of the Sutherland Clearances, presided over the ‘Year of the Burning’, a particularly violent string of evictions which kicked off the Highland Clearances good and proper. And guess what – my book opens with a scene from those days, featuring Sellar and his men during the very event which would see him stand trial in April 1816.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I wrote a press release, mentioning the historical events, my book (cringe! – not used to self-promotion) and attached a picture of myself (double cringe!). I then tried to work out which publications to approach. My local paper, the Inverness Courier? Definitely – the trial took place here and I am an Inverness writer, after all. The book launch is going to be here, too. It’s a no-brainer. Yes.
Northern Times seemed another good bet – they cover the area of Strathnaver where Sellar made a name for himself with his particular brand of heartlessness; plus Durness where most of my book is set. Yep, I’d try them.
Press and Journal? Yes, they do have a Highland section. As an afterthought, I also tagged on the Scotsman. It’s a Scottish story, after all. Why not?
I phoned each paper, asking for a name. I spoke to the relevant person, checking if they were interested, and for their individual contact email, rather than drowning my release in the paper’s overflowing ‘info@whatever’ folder. I adapted my text to suit each individual publication.
And then I pressed ‘send’ four times over.
Most of my precious writing day was taken up with this nonsense.